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Opening of the Encounters Exhibition

E & OE

Well, thank you so much Matt. And if I could acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and also pay my respects to their elders past and present. And also to extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are present today. And can I thank Adrian and Louise so much for that very warm welcome to all of us here.

Can I acknowledge His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, Governor-General, and Her Excellency Lady Cosgrove. The Chief Minister Andrew Barr, my parliamentary colleagues Warren Snowden and Brendan Smyth. David Jones the Chair of the Museum and through David can I thank all of the council members for their passion, their love, and their commitment for this very important institution. Peter Yu, not only is he a member of the council but he also plays an important role as chair of the Indigenous Reference Group and also June Oscar who's with us today.

I've got to make a bit of a confession, and don't take this the wrong way, but I don't get out much. Certainly not in Canberra anyway, because I spend a good chunk of the year on the building on the hill from 6am to 11pm. So I've never really seen Canberra the way it looks here tonight. What a wonderful space we are in here, and I think I should have got here a little bit earlier as I look at Brenden Smyth in the deck chair at the front there. It looks very comfortable, not to mention the picnic rugs.

But it's just a wonderful, a sensational occasion in the life of the nation. And it's important to acknowledge that Encounters really is the product of years of collaboration between our National Museum of Australia and the British Museum. That we have separate but linked exhibitions. Yes, they both feature early and rare indigenous material from the British Museum. But Encounters is special. Encounters is different because it also has some contemporary Indigenous artefacts and, for those who might not yet have had a chance to look through, you must make sure you do. And I just wrote down on a piece of paper as I was walking through, the words of one of the artists represented here, Judy Watson and what she has on the wall above her work is this quote and that is that the purpose of her work is "to rattle the bones of the museum - to wake the dead who are not dead, but alive to all of us." And what a perfect encapsulation and explanation of the exhibition.

I particularly congratulate the curators of both exhibitions, Dr Gaye Sculthorpe, the British Museum's senior Indigenous curator and Dr Ian Coates and Dr Jay Arthur, co-leaders of the Encounters curatorial team.

I think as important as this exhibition is, and it is very important, but equally important is the consultation that has taken place with 27 Indigenous communities who are linked to the objects which are on loan in this place. And that has led to the establishment of some enduring relationships between this Museum and the British Museum and those communities. It has done much to advance reconciliation. And I think also, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, has put his own efforts towards that important endeavour. And, as part of his patronage, he has set to work with the charity he presides over to establish cultural workers scholarships for Indigenous artists. So that from 2016 there will be six young cultural workers who will spend 10 weeks in placement here in Canberra, in Britain and also in the 27 communities who are connected to the objects that are on loan here.

This is a wonderful day. This is a wonderful occasion. This is a wonderful moment in the life of the nation. And through the exhibition that we have here, we will all have a better appreciation of where we have come from, but also we will be much better placed to move into the future together. Thanks very much.

Media contact: Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | Justine.Sywak [at] communications.gov.au